UK COVID strain may be in NJ. Why Murphy’s scientists aren’t too worried
It's not yet clear how far the new, seemingly more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus — first detected in the UK — has spread. There are confirmed cases in Spain, Finland and Sweden, and many health experts believe it’s already in the United States.
It could well already be in New Jersey
But Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the director of the communicable disease services for the state Department of Health, said there is no reason to be more concerned about this strain than the more familiar variety of coronavirus that's been part of our lives for nearly a year.
That is to say — take it seriously, but don't worry that it's about to circumvent major developments like the vaccine just starting to roll out. The novel coronavirus that first hit New Jersey in March remains a significant matter, prompting state restrictions on gathering sizes, curfews on indoor dining and a host of other executive order-driven regulations meant to curb its spread.
“The virus is always mutating. Most mutations mean very little,” Lifshitz said. “Occasionally some mutation may happen that may do something to it where it might transmit more effectively, or it could conceivably be more serious or less serious in different ways.”
The new strain being studied has several variations from the earlier version — and they appear to make it easier for the virus to infect a cell. The upshot: It may be more contagious, but it doesn't appear more deadly.
And importantly, scientists don't believe it's resistant to the vaccines now being given to healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff,
"The vaccines work by creating antibodies to that spike protein," Lifshitz said. "They create antibodies to several different parts on that spike protein, and the chances are the vaccine will continue to work fine.”
"For a virus to mutate enough that the antibodies from the vaccine aren’t likely to stop it, it would also mutate enough that it wouldn’t grab on well to the cell in the first place," he said.
Lifshitz still urged caution —“we never want to say never when it comes to viruses
but I would expect the vaccine to be as effective or nearly as effective against the new variant as the current variants.”
He also said it's not clear how much more transmissible a variation of this virus can be “because we’re not putting people in a room and exposing them and seeing how much easier they are infected.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com